The surface of the river at the pool above the weir at Holne Bridge is glass smooth and a perfect mirror to the relentless grey clouds above. However, refocussing my eyes from the superficial reflection down through the clear water I can see fine sand at my feet grading into pebbles and on to larger boulders out into the middle of the river until the river bed is lost in a aqua-green haze. The water is very clear, possibly as clear as I have ever seen it.
A gust or air ruffles the surface breaking the mirror which is a good thing as I don’t need seven years of bad luck. I press my toes into the softly yielding soil of the bank, lift my heels and spring into a dive. I like to do neat dives which is not always so easy from an uneven vantage point but I feel this one is neat, the water cuts around me rather than there being any sensation of impact. The water is bitterly cold and stings my eyes as I sweep over the river bed boulders into deeper water before getting forced up by the cold crushing my head.
‘Whoo hoo!’ I shake my head in a futile attempt to dislodge the stars that are spinning around inside. ‘F_, that’s cold.’ But not as cold as Wednesday.
Only last week I was quite contentedly dropping into the river above the bridge in only my swimwear and taking a leisurely 10 minute drift down to the weir without any sense of chill. The water at a guess was 12degC or more, the temperature buoyed up by day after day of spring sunshine. The sunshine has been a little less in evidence the last week or so and there was snow over the moor on Monday. I anticipated the change in water temperature on Wednesday but even so and wearing a wetsuit when I got to the weir I had the shivers, the temperature was 5 or 6C at most. Today the river is on the upward cycle again but still just sub-double figures at a guess.
The water level however is on the downward cycle, in free fall almost. A month ago the whole of the weir was covered and the water swirled several inches deep over the lip amongst the roots of the oak tree where my bag now rests high and dry. Today that lip stands at least 10 inches high and dry. That makes changing much easier as I can stand on the concrete and rinse the sand from between my toes. By late summer the water will be confined to just the sluice and spillway but if the forecast is right that will have to wait a while as there is rain on the way. It is unlikely to be as much as a few years ago when in the 2 weeks over Christmas 2013 the weather produced three of the highest river levels ever recorded on the Dart.